Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Fink! Still at Large: High-Achieving Women. (Opinion)

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Fink! Still at Large: High-Achieving Women. (Opinion)

Article excerpt

Sylvia Ann Hewlett has created quite a stir with her book "Creating a Life: Professional Women and the Quest for Children." Ms. Hewlett contends that 49% of the 1,647 "high-achieving" women she surveyed were childless after age 40. These women, who earn at least $100,000 a year, now regret the single-minded focus on their careers and wish they had spent more time and energy on their personal lives, Ms. Hewlett says.

For Discussion: Does our culture give women the wrong message about their ability to "have it all"? Or is the premise of this book--that professional women are so focused on their careers that they neglect to find marriage partners--a flawed one? What should we be saying to our extremely successful female patients who want children but are also committed to a high-power career?

It's Really 'Doing it All'

I question the term "having it all." We never seem to use it to apply to men who have families and careers. We don't, thank goodness, use it to describe indigent single mothers who have to work for minimum wage to support their children. It's reserved for women both fortunate and hard-working enough to have prestigious jobs. "Having it all" is a contribution to society not a gift to an individual woman; it's really "doing it all."

For centuries, men did not marry and have children until they were well established in their careers. These days, some professional men marry later in life than average or leave a first family whom they hardly saw during the formative years of their professions, to start a new family later m life. They can marry women without careers, with lower-powered careers (often related to their own and present in large numbers in their workplaces), or with high-powered careers.

Women with prestigious careers tend to have a much narrower range of potential marital partners. It's just like the lop-sided social prejudice that supports older men marrying younger women but frowns on the reverse. If a career is all consuming, a man or woman may appropriately choose not to have children. Society needs to provide support for professionals who really want to become parents, whichever their gender.

A female graduate student came to me for treatment because she was worried that her devotion to her field would prevent her from becoming a wife and mother. She had a successful treatment; married a bright, successful, and loving man; finished her Ph.D.; and took a tenure-track position at a major university in another city: She had a baby while teaching and preparing her thesis for publication as a book. A year or two later, she wrote that she was going to be in town and would like to see me. She told me that her de partment chair had informed her that she could probably salvage her career despite having a child, but that having a second child would ruin her chances for promotion. I asked her two questions:

* Would her department chair be there for family occasions and to brighten her old age?

* Would her department chair sign an agreement that she would achieve tenure if she had no more children?

I receive a holiday card from my former patient each year. She has three adorable children and tenure. Men and women should be able to have children when and if they want them and can provide for them.

Nada L. Stotland, M.D.

Chicago

Balance Required in All Things

Sigmund Freud said that work and love are the two essential ingredients of a happy and well-adjusted life. Carl Jung said, "The decisive question for each person is, is [s]he related to something infinite or not? That is the telling question of his[her] life. Only when [s]he knows that the thing which truly matters is the infinite, can we avoid fixing ourselves upon futilities and all kinds of goals which really are not important at all."

Love and work really are the necessary basic ingredients of a full life and a healthy personality. …

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